Lisa writes: When we published a post last summer about our kids going to college, we thought we had missed a most important moment and had one only chance left, when our youngest leave. We were wrong.
Parenthood has two big transitions, when our children arrive and when they leave. Mary Dell and I managed the first and, with our older sons, we have faced the second. Our youngest children are leaving for college in a year, a moment we have looked forward to and dreaded for almost two decades. A year ago when we considered this topic we were struck by the real wisdom offered by Marshall P. Duke, Professor at Emory University in this wonderful piece he wrote for The Huffington Post.
“It is a moment that comes along once in a lifetime. Each child only starts college once. …Such moments are rare. They have power. They give us as parents one-time opportunities to say things to our children that will stick with them not only because of what is said, but because of when it is said.
Here is what I tell the parents: think of what you want to tell your children when you finally take leave of them and they go off to their dorm and the beginning of their new chapter in life and you set out for the slightly emptier house that you will now live in. What thoughts, feelings and advice do you want to stick? “Always make your bed!”? “Don’t wear your hair that way!”? Surely not. This is a moment to tell them the big things. Things you feel about them as children, as people. Wise things. Things that have guided you in your life. Ways that you hope they will live. Ways that you hope they will be. Big things. Life-level things.”
Professor Duke suggests a letter, that I did not write, to impart to your now independent child all the important things you want them to know. This letter, he reminds us, will not be deleted but kept and the message absorbed.
When I read his exceptional piece and all I could think was, “I blew it.” I have sent two sons off to college without any attention to the profound. I was saddened for the missed opportunity and hoped I might be redeemed with my third and final opportunity when my youngest son goes to college.
And then I read the very wise professor more carefully (as I urge you to.) Our children will, hopefully, cross many important thresholds in their young adulthood. There will be first jobs and real loves. There will be engagements and marriages. They will face heart-wrenching disappointments and the joys of parenthood. At each of these moments, if and when they occur, we have a chance to quietly offer our thoughts to be accepted or rejected, but to be heard.
For many of us, the milestone moment on the horizon is our kids going to college. While Professor Duke offers advice for the heart, here are practical suggestions from BTDT* moms.
Off to College:
Last year we asked a group of very experienced moms to share their collective wisdom on saying goodbye to the kids going to college. Their advice spans the gamut from the very practical to the very personal, from the trivial to the monumental. Other friends, the authors of the great book College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, offer professional advice:
In the end, our job as parents is to leave them with both the right size sheets and a sense that they are well equipped for this next, independent stage of life. The challenges are no greater or lesser than when they arrived eighteen years ago.